Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Jerome Charyn - Bitter Bronx - Review and Giveaway

About the Book

Brooklyn is dead. Long live the Bronx! In Bitter Bronx, Jerome Charyn returns to his roots and leads the literary renaissance of an oft-overlooked borough in this surprising new collection.

In Bitter Bronx, one of our most gifted and original novelists depicts a world before and after modern urban renewal destroyed the gritty sanctity of a land made famous by Ruth, Gehrig, and Joltin' Joe.

Bitter Bronx is suffused with the texture and nostalgia of a lost time and place, combining a keen eye for detail with Jerome Charyn's lived experience. These stories are informed by a childhood growing up near that middle-class mecca, the Grand Concourse; falling in love with three voluptuous librarians at a public library in the Lower Depths of the South Bronx; and eating at Mafia-owned restaurants along Arthur Avenue's restaurant row, amid a "land of deprivation…where fathers trundled home…with a monumental sadness on their shoulders."

In "Lorelei," a lonely hearts grifter returns home and finds his childhood sweetheart still living in the same apartment house on the Concourse; in "Archy and Mehitabel" a high school romance blossoms around a newspaper comic strip; in "Major Leaguer" a former New York Yankee confronts both a gang of drug dealers and the wreckage that Robert Moses wrought in his old neighborhood; and in three interconnected stories—"Silk & Silk," "Little Sister," and "Marla"—Marla Silk, a successful Manhattan attorney, discovers her father's past in the Bronx and a mysterious younger sister who was hidden from her, kept in a fancy rest home near the Botanical Garden. In these stories and others, the past and present tumble together in Charyn's singular and distinctly "New York prose, street-smart, sly, and full of lurches" (John Leonard, New York Times).

Throughout it all looms the "master builder" Robert Moses, a man who believed he could "save" the Bronx by building a highway through it, dynamiting whole neighborhoods in the process. Bitter Bronx stands as both a fictional eulogy for the people and places paved over by Moses' expressway and an affirmation of Charyn's "brilliant imagination" (Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune).

My Review

With a title like BITTER BRONX, there has to be a villain.

And that man, according to Jerome Charyn, is Robert Moses, the man who cut the borough in two.

He came in his white hard hat, posing for pictures and shoving his expressway project down people's throats. He didn't know how much long-lasting damage he was doing at the time, believing he was a savior figure to them. But what he did was create a irreparable rift through the seam of intersecting cultures that continues to grow even wider.

Moses is the antagonist that ties the collection of thirteen short stories together. Generations of Bronx residents are the sacrificial victim to his short-sighted legacy. In "Major Leaguer" the impact of the Cross Bronx Expressway (built from 1948-1972) lives on, "And the heartless din of traffic from that highway had been ringing in Will's ears now for a good quarter of a century." It becomes something that has to be endured, long after the tall man, who handed out lollipops to yesterday's children, departed without having to justify his actions to the adults of today.

Charyn goes on to blame Moses for the Bronx falling into a state of "permanent recession." He's the harbinger of nightmares for those who regret calling the place home. Charyn even likens the highway to a not so silent character, "a phantom that crawls between the lines." And the most perplexing thing is—Moses didn't even benefit financially from his idea. He didn't get rich by bulldozing these neighborhoods. He had a noble aim, a charitable ambition, that ended up sullying his reputation for generations to come.

It's amazing that one man could wreak so much havoc in such a short period of time. But thanks to him, the melting pot bubbled over. The drug lords control the turf now, forging sharp divides between all differing races and ethnicities. There's a pecking order to the lineup that continues to shift based on whoever's on top of the totem pole at any given moment. It makes for a very unstable environment, one cops won't even patrol anymore. The residents are left to fend for themselves against the outbursts of violence and petty extortion.

Sometimes, the moral of the story is: It's better to have left things alone rather than to have meddled with them at all. The North Bronx and the South Bronx should be united as one, not forever divided into two. The aching rib is slow to heal, probably because it never will.


Bitter Bronx can be purchased at:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $9.99-$12.49 ebook, $24.95 hardcover
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780871404893
Publisher: Liveright
Release: June 1, 2015
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

About the Author

Jerome Charyn's stories have appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The American Scholar, Epoch, Narrative, Ellery Queen, and other magazines. His most recent novel is I Am Abraham. He lived for many years in Paris and currently resides in Manhattan.

Links to connect with Jerome:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

About the Giveaway

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